As the crisis of British capitalism deepens, drama at the top is playing out alongside a rising strike wave from below. North and south of the border, the political establishment is being shaken to its core. Revolutionary explosions impend.
Following the magnificent ‘day of action’ on 1 February, the trade union movement is gearing up for another round of coordinated strikes from 15 March onwards.
This date happens to be the ‘Ides of March’ in the old Roman calendar. It is best known as the date on which Julius Caesar was stabbed in the back by Brutus and other senators.
In William Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Julius Caesar, a soothsayer warns the Roman dictator of impending betrayal with the words ‘beware the Ides of March’. This phrase has become increasingly apt for those at the head of British politics.
For starters, there is Keir Starmer’s refusal to allow Jeremy Corbyn to stand as a Labour MP candidate in the next election. Who can forget the treacherous and deceitful role that the current Labour leader played in dethroning his left-wing predecessor?
There is also Boris Johnson’s manoeuvring against Rishi Sunak, with the former PM inciting rebellion, knife sharpening, and bloodletting in order to thwart his successors attempts to reach a deal over Northern Ireland and post-Brexit trading arrangements.
And then there is the abrupt resignation of Nicola Sturgeon, who, whilst avoiding a Caesarean backstabbing, has exited the stage suddenly, leaving her party and the wider independence movement in disarray.
Whilst this political theatre unfolds at the top, the real-life drama of food banks and class struggle plays out down below.
The industrial landscape is more turbulent than ever, with ambulance drivers, teachers, civil servants, rail workers, posties, and others all gearing up for more strikes.
More working days are being lost to strike action than at any time since 2011. The current wave of walkouts is far more intense and long-lasting, however. In fact, looking at figures for the last six months of 2022, you need to go back decades – to when the miners struck – for any real comparison.
With inflation at over 10%, and food prices shooting up by even more, workers have no alternative but to fight.
Splitting the strikes
The RCN and UCU, meanwhile, have recently paused scheduled strike action by nurses and lecturers, respectively, as they look to negotiate with the employers.
No doubt the Tories would like to break the current strike movement through ‘divide and rule’, offering improved deals to certain sections of workers in order to peel off individual unions.
Having miraculously found an extra £30 billion down the back of the proverbial sofa, Rishi Sunak has even suggested that all public sector workers could be offered a 5% pay increase, in the hope of splitting the trade unions and ending the strikes.
But whether union leaders can sell such a deal to their members is another matter. After all, for most workers, the latest pathetic pay offers are only the tip of the iceberg. And a below-inflation wage rise (plus other small sweeteners) does nothing to make up for a decade of austerity, attacks, and worsening working conditions.
As the pressure of the class struggle builds up in the depths of society, the political landscape above is trembling.
Outside of Scotland, the situation in the rest of the UK over the last eight years has been fraught, with Brexit, the rise and fall of Corbynism, and continual infighting within the Tory Party.
North of the border, by contrast, the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) seemed to be going from strength to strength. They boasted of Scotland becoming a one-party state, with Labour reduced to the humiliation of a single Scottish seat in Westminster.
Now, with Sturgeon quitting as Scotland’s First Minister, crisis has finally caught up with the SNP.
The Holyrood government has been embroiled in deepening problems, with widespread strike action, cuts and austerity, splits over gender recognition reform, the impasse over independence, and other matters.
The SNP has been forced to postpone its special party conference on independence. This was not only because of Sturgeon’s resignation, but also because of the lack of any coherent strategy for independence, after the UK Supreme Court blocked the Scottish Parliament from calling a second referendum without Westminster’s consent, which the Tories will never grant.
Whoever is chosen as leader, the SNP is in a quagmire. One recent YouGov poll provides grim reading for the party, putting Labour just two points behind the SNP, with 27% and 29% support, respectively. Just 30% thought the Scottish government was doing a “good” or “very good” job, down from 37% in November.
If these figures translate into big losses at the next Scottish and UK elections, this will shake the SNP to its foundations.
There are those – the traditionalist, openly bourgeois wing of the party – who want to take the SNP more to the right, suggesting a more ‘evolutionary’ route on independence.
As Mhairi Black MP has warned, however: “It has not been perfect, obviously, but any turn to the right, fiscally or socially, would risk alienating a huge slice of our membership and our electoral credibility.”
Everything points to trouble ahead for the SNP leadership as it tries to satisfy the membership, while sticking to pro-capitalist policies.
Tories in meltdown
The Tories are still haunted by Brexit, meanwhile, as Sunak tries to deal with the deadlock surrounding the Northern Ireland protocol.
Even if he gets a deal, which is not certain, the Prime Minister still faces the prospect of DUP obstinacy, and revolt by Tory Brexiteers in the House of Commons.
Of course, all this is grist to the mill for Starmer, who is clearly aiming to present himself as a reliable alternative for the ruling class, having enjoyed swanning around with the global elites at Davos.
With the Tories in meltdown, Starmer is already preparing his entry into Number 10.
Significantly, the very day Sturgeon stepped down, Starmer announced that Corbyn will never again be a Labour MP.
“That sets a symbolic seal on Sir Keir’s overhaul of the opposition since taking over in 2020,” explained liberal journal the Economist, “whereby he has systematically purged the hard left from the party apparatus.”
The ‘left’ within the Labour Party represents no more than a frightened shadow. They are responsible for the right’s victory.
When they were in control, they were terrified of clearing out the Blairites, as we argued for. Instead, they talked about ‘unity’ and a ‘broad church’. Now they are paying the price for their spinelessness.
Government of crisis
Starmer is clearly in the pocket of big business. He will do their bidding. Nevertheless, workers will likely vote for his party without enthusiasm, holding their nose, so as to get the Tories out.
The Labour leader will act no differently than the Tories in putting the interests of capitalism first. This means austerity. This will bring him into conflict with the working class, however, which has now been aroused.
Starmer’s government will be one of crisis, as opposition mounts on all fronts. The fact is that capitalism can no longer afford the reforms of the past.
Given the suffering of the working class, as well as the middle classes, all hell will break loose.
More and more will experience the rottenness of capitalism, suffering from inflation, wage cuts, and economic slump. Not one of the problems facing the working class can be solved within the confines of this broken system. On the contrary, the situation on the ground is getting worse by the day.
A new chapter is opening up. Impressionistic liberal commentators like the Economist proclaim – or dream of – a new era of “calm” and “moderation” in Britain. But instead, the coming era will be one of increasing turbulence and class war.
Millions will be radicalised, having gone through the ‘school’ of Sir Keir Starmer. Many will draw revolutionary conclusions.
There are those who scoff at the idea of revolution. But events are pushing us in that direction. The crisis we have today is only a foretaste of what is to come.
Under these conditions, the ideas of Marxism will gain a wide audience. Our task must to build up our forces today for the events that impend.
We must prepare a Marxist leadership that is ready and willing to go all the way, and not to capitulate under pressure.
The Ides of March has arrived for capitalism. This is no Shakespearian play, but the daily experience for millions of working people.
The time has come to plunge the knife into capitalism, and to bring about the socialist transformation of society. Join us in this historic mission.
This article was originally published on 23 February at socialist.net |